In an outrageous turn of events, the debut of “The Mike Huckabee Show” featured an executive from Cumulus Media Network, the show’s syndicator, calling in to implicitly insult Rush Limbaugh. Here’s how things went down according to Jeffrey Lord of The American Spectator:
Huckabee began this way:
"Alright, we're going to go to the phone lines and we've got a call from Mike in San Francisco. Welcome to the Mike Huckabee Show, Mike."
What did "Mike" have on his mind? He started this way:
"Well Governor, let me start by saying it's great to have a different opinion and a different person on the radio and I'm very, very happy that you're doing this radio show. One of the reasons why I want to listen to your program every day is because you ran for office and you've been a politician, you have a different perspective I think."
Catch that? "Mike from San Francisco" begins by saying in supposedly unprompted fashion that (bold emphasis mine) "… it's great to have a different opinion and a different person on the radio…"
Different opinion? Different person? Different from whom? Why, Rush Limbaugh, of course.
In fact, "Mike from San Francisco" turned out after some digging to be one Mike McVay, the senior vice president of programming for… wait for it… the Cumulus Media Network. None of which was acknowledged on the air by either "Mike from San Francisco" or, more to the point, Mike Huckabee.
The executive vice president and co-chief operating officer, John Dickey, confirmed that the caller was indeed McVay, and offered a lame excuse: “a colleague in the company was excited about the new show and arranged to call in with the first question without Governor Huckabee’s knowledge.” Dickey did inform Lord that he had told his executives not to call into their own shows.
The real question here, however, is whether Huckabee’s show – and the way it was positioned in this call – is an attack on Rush Limbaugh, his opponent in the 12-3 PM EST time slot. The timing of this could not be more suspicious, considering the concerted leftist attack on Limbaugh led by Media Matters, and considering the pitch of Huckabee’s show: namely, a kinder, gentler conservatism. It’s no coincidence that Huckabee ended his show with these words: “Is there a part of the public that wants to hear both sides of the story and hear intelligent thoughtful discussion?”
The implication, of course: Rush’s audience doesn’t want to hear both sides of the story, or thoughtful, intelligent discussion.
The tenor of Huckabee’s show was clear not only from the first call, but from the show itself. Huckabee’s slogan: “More conversation, less confrontation.” Huckabee’s first guest was probable Republican nominee Mitt Romney; he also did a tribute to Mike Wallace, the “60 Minutes” host who consistently derided conservatives and conservatism. Huckabee even spent time pushing the anti-bullying cause – a worthwhile cause surely, but a key talking point for the White House.
Overall, as Matt Negrin at ABC News described, “Huckabee has adopted a more moderate tone and asks more questions rather than answering them.” And ABC News clearly likes Huckabee more than it likes Limbaugh: “If there really is a group of conservative voters who want to listen to a like-minded talk show host who doesn’t specialize in yelling or conspiring, then the bass-playing right-winger might have a new home in the afternoon.”
When ABC News recommends a conservative show, you can fairly guarantee it’s not a particularly conservative show. And when executives for that show are calling in without identifying themselves and implicitly attempting to degrade the competition in order to draw a political contrast, that’s an ethical problem.